Tuesday, 24 June 2014

4. The Softie

I thought I knew the lexicon of cancer, but I’m learning a whole new vocabulary.
Anyone heard of a “softie”?

I was given this contraption by the breast care nurse, a few weeks before surgery.
It’s a soft little cushion designed to be stuffed inside your bra, until such time that you can be measured up for your very own breast prosthesis, a few months down the line.

I have chosen not to have a breast reconstruction.

I believe you have to choose whatever solution will make you feel most “yourself”.
I can understand completely that for some, perhaps even most, women this means having an implant or a breast constructed from their own body tissue (a whole new learning curve there too –and it’s not for the faint hearted!).

I have never been in any doubt, however, that I would feel most myself if I had no breast at all, rather than an artificially constructed one.

Enter the Softie.

The day I was told I needed a mastectomy, I explained the situation to each child on their return from school.

My younger daughter was initially horrified at the thought of having my breast cut off (“eeuuugghh”), but it is remarkable how quickly children adapt to the facts when they are properly explained.

She wondered: could I not have a new breast made? 
I answered that this is indeed possible. 
Lots of women choose it and are very happy with it.

I also explained my reasons for rejecting the various reconstructive options.
I don’t fancy having something “not-me” inside me; nor do I fancy having a bit of my shoulder muscle moved into my breast space; and I don’t have enough stomach fat to be used  as breast filling.

She agreed that these did not sound like enviable options.

After a few moments’ contemplation, Bear (who talks a lot, using my younger daughter’s voice) came up with a Very Good Plan: I could just stuff my bra with toilet paper.
I complimented Bear on his excellent thinking and told him that someone has invented something even better.

So Bear had been looking forward to Softie’s arrival, wondering whether he might get a chance to prance about in my removable breast.

(Alas for him: Owl immediately laid claim to Softie, keeping a hold on her until Mastectomy Day – although he clearly hadn’t been told which bit of his anatomy it was meant to cover.)

Six weeks later, Softie has had a few tentative outings.

Four days post-mastectomy, I wanted to go to evening mass to light a candle for my mother. Having been happily bra-less and lopsided, I thought I should probably make an effort at looking conventional for my first mingling with the outside world as a one-breasted woman.

One wouldn’t want to worry the worshippers, so out came Softie who had already been relegated from perching proudly on Owl’s ear to lying expectantly on the bedside table to waiting willingly in the sock drawer.

There had been a subtle but significant, perhaps even seismic, change of perception and body-image during that first breast-less week.

Having cried over the impending loss, in the end it felt as if my breast had outstayed her welcome, especially after the postponement of surgery.
I felt she was in the way, hindering my forward path.

Of course having a rounded breast replaced by a long flat scar is not the most fortunate of swaps. But I am getting used to it.

In fact when my breast care nurse suggested I wear Softie on leaving hospital, I dismissed her.

It wasn’t so much a “who cares, take me as I am” attitude (although there was that too, because truly, who cares? Especially in a hospital where people have bits missing all over the place).

It was a strong feeling that stuffing my bra with a fake breast would hinder my process of making friends with my new shape.

But now, I found my bra, fished Softie out of the sock drawer, and duly stuffed my front.

I almost cried: looking down, I didn’t feel re-balanced but utterly knocked off-balance.
My fake breast looked far too big.

It felt like covering up a space that wasn’t empty at all, because it had been filled with the love of family and dear friends.

It felt like an intrusion. All I could see was a monstrosity where there had been a glorious breathing space.

I took myself downstairs in one of my standard tops (I’m very low on baggy outfits, I’ve realised these past few weeks as I’ve searched and re-searched my wardrobe for something loose to wear). My husband, son and older daughter were sitting in the kitchen.

“Look at this,” I complained. “It’s ridiculous! I look like Dolly Parton!”

The three of them contemplated the matter, looking me scrutinously up and down.

“Mum, it’s fine! It looks normal,” was my older daughter’s final verdict (and you can trust a 14 year old to be honest in such matters). The men agreed.

So we went out, Softie and I. I did wear a large scarf to church, but that was really to cover the drain that looped from the bottom of my T-shirt into my shoulder bag.
No-one stared.

But now, the Softie no longer fits me.

Since my drain has been removed,  the fluid that has been accumulating has nowhere to go and has caused my chest to swell.

So the day before we travelled to Holland for my mother’s funeral, I thought I’d better assess the situation afresh. I hadn’t been wearing Softie because of the uncomfortable swelling, but lopsided wasn’t quite the funeral look I was after.

This time, only my younger daughter and Bear were available as independent assessors.
And this time the verdict was firm: Softie on top of my swollen chest was rather too much of a sum total.

We tried various options.
Empty bra? Hm. Looked fine initially, but one Bear Hug produced a valley that has no place in what should be a mountainous area.
Perhaps I would have to resort to the toilet paper proposal?

Thankfully, Bear came up with another winning solution: Brain Fluff.

We have a large bag of soft toy stuffing upstairs, which was used to re-fill Bear’s head when his brain volume had reached dangerously low levels.

Brain Fluff, the depleted Softie, and the original Softie filling
Softie’s carefully moulded stuffing was duly replaced with half the volume in Brain Fluff, making me look perfectly normal and unremarkable.

Yesterday morning before the funeral, my breast had swollen alarmingly (and had made disconcerting sloshing noises when turning myself over in bed). 

Even Brain Fluff Bra became too  much, so some of the Brain Fluff was picked out and ended up in my wash kit.

Luckily, in the end, we were perfectly presentable, Brain Fluff Bra and I.
And I now find that there is a certain feeling of comfort in Softie’s gentle pressure.

Perhaps one day my prosthesis and I can be friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment